Weaving a Tapestry of Learning: Introducing King's Common Curriculum
Anyone who has worked at a loom knows the miracle of turning disparate threads into a tapestry that adds beauty, warmth, and meaning to life. As King’s President Dr. Melanie Humphreys puts it, “A wonderfully woven tapestry is so much more than the sum of its parts.”
Students at King’s create tapestries of learning. Guided by curricular requirements, they weave a rich array of liberal arts courses into their program. The approach helps students think deeply about their central area of focus.
Alumni from King’s are known for their ability to sift through all that’s bombarding us in this accelerated age and to make choices that “bring renewal and reconciliation to every walk of life.”
Tayla Haswell, an English student who graduates this spring, can testify to the benefits of a diverse course load. “It affects you profoundly as a person if you allow it to,” she says. “Things always tie together if you want to make those connections, and your learning becomes all that much more valuable.”
A Tighter Weave
In fall 2019, King’s is implementing a new Common Curriculum. This curriculum is not a radical departure but builds on a framework developed 20 years ago intended to prepare students not merely for employment, but for “full lives of service and enjoyment” in God’s creation.
The new curriculum sets a goal of integrating key narratives and themes throughout every course. Each discipline is in the process of developing new introductory and capstone courses that intentionally tie a program together and integrate it with themes from other disciplines.
“Students will see more deliberate connections between courses and disciplines but also between thinking and action,” says Vice President Academic and Research at King’s Dr. Hank Bestman. “In the old curriculum there was an emphasis on head knowledge. We assumed thinking eventually leads to action. Now we’re more intentionally saying, ‘This is how thinking necessarily leads to action.’”
New Common Courses
The Common Curriculum calls students to take three types of courses:
Learning to think well: Curated courses in philosophy, theology, English, history, and fine arts nurture reading and writing skills and encourage deeper questioning.
Ideas shape our world: Courses in the natural and social sciences along with additional philosophy, theology, English, history, and fine arts courses deepen knowledge while linking to root issues.
Acting to bring flourishing: Taken throughout a student’s chosen program, these courses tie directly into threads woven in previous courses, equipping students to engage deeply and creatively with challenges.
Three years of study, research, and debate went into designing the Common Curriculum. “It was a bold, soul-searching endeavor,” Dr. Bestman says. “Nothing was left unexamined.” The Foundations Review Committee, a team of faculty and students charged with leading the work, knew every decision had implications for students and programs. They also knew, through alumni and student surveys and focus groups, that the existing framework was already equipping students with a “richly disciplinary and interdisciplinary” liberal arts education, but that students didn’t always fully grasp what they had gained until later.
Dr. Kristopher Ooms, an alumnus who returned to join the Chemistry department in 2008 and served on the Foundations Review Committee, recalls his own discovery about the significance of his learning at King’s. “Even when I finished at King's, I don’t think I properly appreciated what I’d been given,” he says. “In graduate school, I realized how prepared I was to wrestle with ideas and issues others only touched on.”
Faculty members are meeting twice a month to wrestle with what this new Common Curriculum means for each discipline and the campus as a whole. “To keep doing better,” Bestman says, “we need to be actively involved in pedagogy and continually ask big questions.” To gauge progress, new learning outcomes have been developed outlining what students will ideally know, do, and value as a result of their studies. Outcomes focus on attributes highly sought after in today’s economy yet downplayed at many universities such as critical thinking and ethical action. Dr. Humphreys notes, “People are concerned whether they’ll have a job at the end; these are the outcomes that are going to prepare you best for a disrupted world where you’re likely to go through multiple careers.”
Work on the Common Curriculum is reinforcing the role of narrative in King’s distinctive approach to teaching and learning. “We ground what we do in story because it gives us great connection to the Biblical story. When we use that lens to analyze chemistry, math, psychology, and other subjects, amazing things pop out for us,” Dr. Ooms observes.
The Common Curriculum invites students to weave their own stories, but also to become part of a shared tapestry. Dr. Ooms adds, “you are choosing the majority of the threads in your tapestry, but we’ll show you how to look beyond individualism, to see how you fit into the larger story of God’s plan.”
By Cheryl Mahaffy